Clients are always asking me for advise on how to cope with the loss of their dear pets. The answers, of course, to such an emotionally-charged issue aren’t simple. Hundreds of books have been written on the subject. But here are a few things that I feel pretty much sums it all up.
As I stated in my first bestseller Sometimes It Breaks Your Heart (sorry about the shameless plug for the book), if an owner is lucky, they will be blessed with the precious gift of watching their beloved pet grow from an exuberant young puppy or kitten full of energy and life, into a mellow and faithful middle-aged companion, and then finally into a mature and loving old age. It’s a snapshot view of our own lives and of our human destinies, all summed up in 15 or so years.
The ancient Greeks described three different kinds of love. The first “philia” describes the love of a spouse, a family member, or of brotherhood. Next was “eros,” the wild and breathtaking love of sexual passion. And finally, there is “agape.” This is the unconditional, active, and boundless love that we Christians attribute to the Lord.
Although may not be on quite the same level, this agape form of love is pretty close to the sort of love our pets have for us. They love us unconditionally no matter what our mood, the way we happen to look, or how mundane our thoughts and actions might be. And it is when this emotional bond our devoted pets have developed with us is taken by death, that a large part of us then dies as well.
Those are my thoughts on pet loss. I can hear it out there now, the collective cry of all my treasured readers: “And so, Doc, how do we avoid having our hearts ripped out and stomped on the ground every time we lose a beloved pet?”
My answer is, “You can’t! Not if you’re human.”
We, that is, all of us thinking two-legged creatures have two choices when dealing with any acquaintances or experiences we run across on our journey through this life. We can chose to ignore, hide from, or just superficially deal with these encounters, and move on—and that’s OK, but only sometimes. Or, we can engage with, open up to, and exalt in the pleasures and energy and life-force of other living beings that God has chosen to place in our paths. The more we do so, the more we can learn about ourselves and the richer our lives will be.
However, separation by death is unavoidable. For many people, this is where the hard part comes into the picture. By actively engaging with our pets, and by truly sharing the gift of life with them, many owners are devastated when the time comes to let go of their precious friends.
And that’s OK also.
What I usually remind people of at this time, is that while they mourn their dog or kitty’s loss, they should also remember all that they were able to share with their lost pet, all that they learned about life from them, and how blessed they were—how truly blessed—to have had them in their lives to make their own personal journey through the world more bearable.